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Latin America – Russia: An Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era

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On Tuesday, August 4, the outstanding video-conference “Latin America – Russia: an Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 Era” was held organized by the Valdai Club , the Russian Embassy in Guatemala, the American Chamber of commerce  (AmCham), the Central American Parliament  (Parlacen) the SIECA(Central American Secretariat for Economic Integration), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the CRIES of Argentina (Regional Coordination of Economic and Social Research).

The video conference was attended by Alexis Rodzianko as moderator (president of AmCham Russia). And an outstanding panel of speakers with:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov; Nadia de León (chairman of PARLACEN) Melvin Redondo (general secretary of the SIECA); Yaroslav Lissovolik (programme director at Valdai Club); Richard Kozul Wright (director of division on globalization and development strategies UNCTAD);  Daniel Russell (Ceo of USRBC) and Lila Roldan Vásquez (head of the CARI –Argentina- Eurasian studies group)

After a brief presentation and comments by the moderator Alexis Rodzianko (president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce) on the nature of the video-conference and the panelists in it, Russian Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov started the dialogue expressing his satisfaction with the existence of this kind of spaces for reflection in such difficult global times. We quote some of his more outstanding phrases:

Russia and the United States continue their dialogue on joint efforts to combat the pandemic, and this is good news”.

Washington, however, does not abandon its claims for global hegemony. This poses a threat to international stability and security.”.

He stated the need to increase channels of cooperation when the coronavirus is ravaging the entire planet, for the first time in humanity, it faces a threat that affects the entire planet, this poses a dramatic challenge, the frustrating statistics of Covid- 19 have the same effects as a war, this era requires the consolidation of international efforts together and that Russia hopes that large-scale cooperation can act as a vector for a more multipolar world.

He also denounced international actors, the countries that privilege self-interest over those of the international community in times of crisis due to the pandemic. He cataloged irresponsible and short-sighted countries that ignoring the UN declarations, mainly the western powers, continue with sanctions measures to other countries, sanctions that hinder the acquisition of medical supplies and assistance, including Latin American countries, without even foreseeing the lifting of sanctions even for the time of the pandemic.

He was also very critical of the attitude of the United States in various multilateral fields such as its withdrawal from the Open Skies treaties; missile weapons treaties such as INF and START II; the North-American withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

On the cooperation agenda of Latin America – Russia, he highlighted the negative factors that Latin America faces in its current situation:

Latin America continues to face dramatic social inequalities and political de-stabilizations: The US continues its efforts to redraw the political map of Latin America to serve its interests.”

He stressed that:

From Russia with much disappointment and concern some time ago we observed how the Monroe Doctrine and all the ideology linked to it was officially reintroduced by the United States.”.

As positive factors he pondered that for Russia, Latin America has always been a region of political tolerance, economic opportunities and cultural affinity:

  • For Russia, the relationship with Latin America is a value in itself of its foreign policy and bases its cooperation agenda in the region based on a pragmatic and de-ideological vision, Russia does not seek to engage its partners in geopolitical dilemmas where they must choose between friends and enemies”.
  • And these links have always had a positive dynamic in energy, communications, technology, medicine, logistics and transportation. We seek technological and commercial alliances, diversifying their bases”.
  • “A paramount of Russian cooperation with Latin America was the activation in 2019 of the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology (in Managua, Nicaragua) that produces, insulin and interferon and vaccines for Latin American consumption”.

Despite the delicate situation worldwide, the deputy-minister remained optimistic that crises improve prospects for international cooperation, and that Russia-Latin America cooperation will continue to consolidate.

 “During this pandemic, Russian assistance has been received by: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, in testing teams and personal health protection, in addition to humanitarian aid.”

The possibility of assistance to other countries in the region such as Paraguay, Colombia, and Peru has been addressed.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund announced the signing of an agreement under which 150,000 Avifavir packages will be sent to seven Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay. In addition, Russia will also send supplies of the antiviral drug to South Africa and transfer the technology to Bolivian firm Sigma Corp SRL in order for it to be produced locally.

Closing of the presentation

The deputy-minister Ryabkov cerró su presentación marcando que en las difíciles circunstancias actuales es fundamental evitar la politización de la situación de la pandemia, un verdadero desafío global, que requiere esfuerzos conjuntos entre todos los Estados, y que Rusia está preparada para hacer su aporte y que lo está haciendo.

The deputy-minister Ryabkov closed his presentation by stating that in the current difficult circumstances it is essential to avoid politicizing the situation of the pandemic, a true global challenge, which requires joint efforts between all States, and that Russia is ready to make its contribution, and it’s doing it.

Questions and Answers Section

In the questions and answers section of the dialogue, he answered a question about the role of Russia in the binomial-dilemma that would appear to present itself to Latin America in the strategic competition between the US and China:

Russia won’t be part of that geopolitical game” 

He made it clear that Russia will surely not be part of a possible geopolitical triangular game with the US and China in Latin America, since it does not have the same capabilities as the other two actors (US-China) and that from the strategic vision of Russia relations with Latin America should be characterized by a cooperative logic of mutual benefit (win-win) and pragmatism, the relationship with this region should not emulate previous models of relations between center and periphery and he highlighted the Russian-Argentine relationship as an example of a link of mutual benefit.

Russia will not act for Latin America as an actor to support itself in a counterbalance, to offset the competition between Beijing and Washington in the region, but it will continue to maintain cooperative relations with Latin America, although he clarified that trilateral cooperation, as in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic should not be ruled out.

 “Those practices go against the core elements and principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.”

It was his answer to the question about Russia’s position on the persistent US policies of imposing economic sanctions unilaterally (such as in the blockades against Cuba and Venezuela) that impede the fluidity of international cooperation (in times of pandemic, necessary international aid) and that Russia has also been suffering the same extortionary measures since the referendums that consecrated the return of the Crimean territories to Russia in 2014, and in which in this aspect Russia has not found a “common ground” with the United States for dialogue.

“We have to find ways to ensure relief to the countries most in need and with the fewest resources” 

He argued that it is the responsibility of institutions such as those of the Breton Woods system, the G20, the Club de Paris, the economic powerhouses to find coherent strategies to achieve this objective. Macroeconomic policies of expansion, not austerity, should be promoted globally.

My own questions

As an observer-participant of the digital event, I was able to ask the Deputy-Minister two questions:

 “is there any prospect from Russia to collaborate with South American efforts to “catch up” with the latest technology?”

In this response, he expressed his wish that such cooperation be carried out, since Russia has a lot to contribute, he said regarding the digitization of public services, of special interest today in public health services, other axes of technological cooperation could include biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and he stated that Russia is not exaggerating by claiming that it has made important advances in the development of drugs that help combat Covid-19 in the near future. Regarding this, he highlighted the observations of his presentation, where he mentioned that Russia has significantly promoted the installation of technology in Central America (the Latin American Institute of Biotechnology).Other areas of cooperation of interest mentioned were telecommunications and the peaceful use of nuclear power, agricultural technology.

These cooperation dynamics, he argued, will always be guided by pragmatic visions; Russia will not subject its partners to geopolitical dilemmas.

 is there any interest from Russia to improve Argentina’s naval capabilities in fishing, hydrocarbons, naval surveillance, etc?

In this regard, he pointed out that initial contacts had taken place in the Macri administration and that he is sure that under the administration of President Alberto Fernández these contacts would continue.

He quoted the slogan: “it is the economy, stupid” when explaining the interest that exists between both governments and their respective businessmen to associate in relation to the naval field, but the contacts are still distant.

Regarding fishing exploitation, he acknowledged his lack of knowledge about any Russian-Argentine association project on the subject, but he stressed that this doesn’t mean that it is not an interesting area of cooperation to continue advancing the in the bilateral agenda.

For the last, he emphasized that when travel and contacts will be reestablished, all those axes of cooperation can be discussed further, without major impediments.

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New Constitution in Chile: From a protected transition to an agonizing transition

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Image: Juan Manuel Núñez Méndez/ Unsplash

A constituent process has been installed in Chile. On October 25, 2020, the date of plebiscite, the alternative “Apruebo” (78%) by a new political constitution, and the option of “Constitutional Convention” (79%), obtained the majority over the option of “Rejection” (22%) and on the “Joint Constitutional Convention” option (21%), respectively.

This is the current state of things. But let’s go back a little bit about its origins.

In 1988 the Plebiscite took place that said NO to Pinochet, and which then led to the first presidential and parliamentary election, after 17 years of dictatorship. Pinochet accepts this plebiscite in large part, for fear of a popular rebellion, an issue that was akin to protests that would begin to occur moreively and progressively, from 1983 to 1986 in Chile (Délano, 1985; Delgado-Torres et al., 2018; Manzano, 2014, p. 80; Salazar Salvo, 2019) called “awakening” (Moulian, 2002, p. 261)- and for the attack on Pinochet (the so-called “Operation TWENTIETH Century”) on September 7, 1986  (Equipo de prensa CHV, 2015; Holzapfel, 2006; Zalaquett, 2011).

And all this popular uprising occurred, even though the media of the time were trying to produce distortions in the perception of the veracity of the facts. Iconic is, for example, the protest that took place in an act broadcast on television about John Paul II’s visit to Chile, where it is possible to contrast the social reality of the events produced at that time on camera, and the fully ukrainian journalistic narrative (TVN, 2015) With the Plebiscite of 1988, this would put an end to the right-wing military dictatorship or  Pinochetist dictatorship..

The new regime or state of business would arise from a political negotiation (Departamento de prensa, TVN, 2018; Godoy, 1999; Kaltwasser, 2007) an “antisocialpact”» agreed between a sector of politicians who opponent Pinochet, on the one hand, and on the other, Pinochet and the  pro-dictatorship political sectors. Pinochet leaves the political power of the executive, not without first sesuring him, of political-judicial immunity for the future and to his economic and political heritage which, and as such, should continue and be projected over time. Proof of the first, are the negotiations of the concerted government administrations to rescue him from trials in England  (Agencia EFE, 2018; Guzmán, 2001; Huneeus, 2018; Portales, 2018)and the one who was never tried on national soil  (Gárate, 2016) Thus it was said: “We have an unwritten covenant, but morally subscribed by all political forces, not to review the dictatorship”(Baby, 2011) To enable this, from an economic and political model that would have already been installed in dictatorship  (Salazar Vergara & Pinto, 1999)”transition” (a term adopted by Pinochet himself in Chacarillas’ speech in 1977), consisting of a process of administration protected by the continuators, is proposed. In short, Pinochet’s political power would be abandoned, but the political and economic model flanked by the Political Constitution and related laws would not be touched.

Between 1990 and 2000, there is a phase that we could call a protected transition, somewhat in reference to the name that some gave of this period as “protected democracy”  (Huneeus, 1997) Protected by Pinochet and political parties; protecting the model. All the measures taken of a police type in that period, and for the sake of this “protection”, were aimed at disarcting the movements of armed insurgency. Just like the Dictatorship, through the DINA, and its “turn continuator”, the CNI, did so with the self-styled “Revolutionary Left Movement”(MIR), and, in part, with the “Patriotic Front Manuel Rodríguez””  (FPMR),as well as the police during the transitional governments did so with the”Lautaro Youth Movement” or  MAPU Lautaro, and any other focus of insurgency that was thus, asítambién la policía durante los gobierno stransicionales lo hicieron con el “ (Labbé, 2019)

For their part, economic measures were geared towards the maximum economic opening of foreign capital. The Chilean economy was opened to the installation of foreign companies of all kinds in Chile, and Chilean companies with large economic conglomerates. It is the time of the Great Stores that trade with all kinds of goods and services, species of “Walmart”, that allowed a constant flow of purchase and sale of goods, on all those destined for consumption, an issue that led to the consideration of Chile by the authors, as a “paradise of consumption”  (Moulian, 2002) Outside of this, there was a strong export incentive but where only one sector of entrepreneurs (big company) enjoyed the benefits from this activity, of full liberalization of the economy based on an extractive economy where by which transnational corporations made use of domestic labour at low wages compared to the resulting benefits to enterprises, in addition, with serious environmental damage (Espectador, 2019)foreign contractors selling second-hand or obsolescent goods and services at the price of first-hand goods and services and state-of-the-art technology. Example of this, we have the purchase, by the administration of the government of Ricardo Lagos Escobar, of second-hand Spanish trains (Délano, 2008) the railway that united the capital Santiago with Chillán. Responsibilities are assumed for irregularities in the purchase and management of these goods (Sánchez, 2008)of influence by Ricardo Lagos Escobar for the purchase  (Donoso, 2008)workers  (Mostrador, 2011).

A social structure based on the acquisition of material wealth and their social ostentation would also have contributed, an irrepressible need of the popular classes to resemble the most affluent classes, there is an aspirationism  or uprhithism (Ariztía, 2016; Contardo, 2013) As the most affluent classes lived looking at Europe, and then the U.S. as their image to imitate, this eventually irrigated the entire Chilean social structure. There was no “identity” (with all the enose that has been for the postmodernist academy this term). Chile, fertile province for the ideology and practices of remote nations.

Now, on the one hand, was politics based on the logic of political parties, under a system of indirect representation without the possibility of revocation of mandates or citizen trials for poor performance (Salazar, 2011, 2015) On the other hand, the practical attempt to monopolize politics by political parties in Chile and exercise unweighted dominance of it leads us to the phenomenon of the partidarquía (Carrasco Jiménez, 2016, 2020).

The Chilean partidarquía  originated with the first post-Pinochet government, that is, in the government of Patricio Aylwin. The political blocs of Pinochet were clearly recognized, and the  pro-dictator bloc. These blocs would continue more or less dominantly until the first luster of the 21st century, when the student movement of 2001 and pinochet’s death in 2006 occur, turning points of the historical process in Chile.

Adherents to mass, incendiary and revolutionary protest socialism of the 1960s and 1970s began to enjoy the economic “goodness” of the model established by the dictatorship, and ceased to be (if ever really) critical of economic disadvantages. If their model worked for them, then it didn’t matter then the gangsterism, the arrogance, the threats, the corruption of the administration as ways to preserve power in all its manifestations. Instead, they were installed as ways of doing things, all with the aim of extending their prebendas, privileges, and domains. What Pinochet’s partisan bloc already perversely enjoyed, even before it became a bloc and simply being Pinochet’s adherents during its regime, would also begin to taste its perverse fruits the bloc opposing it. Therefore, right or left, it was already the same when it comes to embodying the vices of the political and economic model.

Many exhibited uninhibitedly their corrupt and corrupting practices, exercising nepotism, the trafficking of influences, the undue pressures, participating in street television shows as celebrities, posing as movie or rock stars in banal and gossip-oriented magazines, some showing their pectoral (The Clinic, 2015)others notorious for their romances and confessions (Equipo FMDOS, 2016)an exhibitionist egolatry. It should come as no surprise, then, that the world of the show is interspersed with that of partisan politics  (Sandoval, 2013).  We understood that they were public servants, but figuration, flattery and power made them feel like land gods.  Drunk with ego, they didn’t know what was going on in real Chile, in the one of daily life.

The partidarquía  was also built on political operators who did not belong to the dome, but lived off partisan clientelism. His entire social position, his “benefits”, were secured by the party only by his belonging and devotion. Jobs were secured to people without professional instruction, or who, having it, were and are of paradigmatic mediocrity, along with accumulating, a whole “toolbox” of bad practices: deviations from public resources for personal interests  (Bravo, 2019; Mostrador, 2019); obtaining professional qualifications to projects through bribery, threat and extortion  (Arroyo, 2017; Espinoza Riquelme, 2020; Jara Herrera, 2020); the granting, with public funds, of professional services at a cost to friends and family without merit (Cooperativa.cl, 2017; Kelly, 2020; Pizarro & Sepúlveda, 2017). Thus a working culture was built based on this mediocrity, on the trafficking of influences based on political favor. That is, a corruption of practices, an issue that was permeating every labor organization.

This, in some way, was accompanied by a whole process of deep banalization, a “concertary aesthetic” (Oporto Valencia, 2015, p. 254)kind of “soma” as described by Huxley in Brave New World, anopium that was distributed by the political system prevailing post-pinochetist and  transitional (1990-2000), whose effect produced some malaise of Chilean culture, and the evasion of the population to the social reality resulting from the model. Many “ingested” this drug, this alcohol, as an anesthetic ways of trying to subterranean (or “subterranean”)»rape and its «trauma, non-human rights violation, real and concrete violation of the body, one of the political foundations of Pinochet’s dictatorship, and element of the inherited model. So many others also consumed this “soma” so as not to hear. Pitifully led them to insult those who wanted to restart, with the necessary justice, their lives after the ageing, an issue that the political system threw under the carpet out of fear and cowardice  (Deutsche Welle, 2018; Herceg, 2020) In this way they were “resentful”, there was a boredom to listen to the issue of human rights, and in the most extreme cases, to mention that the unfinished work of the dictatorship lay in not having killed all those who were part of political dissent  (Guzmán, 2001) This type of violence demonstrated, in our view, two things: (1) that the model installed by the dictatorship was more than just a “brick” and a Constitution; it was a structural complex, within which the economic and the political are elements, but that the way to configure them socially and historically, is what defined the model; (2) that the model produced the same effects as in dictatorship, also in “democracy”, so that the people veded, were still veded.

This is how the questions that arose in everyday conversation, on the journey on public transport, in the opinion of the driver, the passengers, the clothesline, a cashier, in the mass chats, began to gather at a mouth where their waters were slowly growing. And the rumour of them did not stop, and it was timed by the stone on which the political parties had founded their building. This was decanting in a distrust of the “political class” and in a “crisis of representation” (Salazar, 2019).

It is not that the current Constitution, in itself, is “the” source of any possible corruption. Rather, the defect would be the type of relationship between the economic structure implemented in Chile and the established political-legal structure, a political-legal structure whose head, ceiling and support is the current Constitution. The result of the interaction and dynamics of both structures in Chile is a set of social and/or practical relationship modes that are distributed particularly throughout the social body. It would have to be the current social “celeste” in Chilean society, that is, “what are you willing to do to achieve the social objectives that the political-economic framework allows you”,thatis, cost. And optimization would indicate, in a society like ours, that media matters more than ends. Therefore,  political or class favor, which is but the “sale ofthe soul to the devil”, venta del alma al diablo implies a means of obtaining social position, riches, recognition. But if these are conceived only individual means for purposes other than just individual ones, the way of social relations, perhaps they could change. This lacks, in my view, the current social model. Individualism of this kind only generates unsportsman proof competition: a heavenly desire, whatever the way it cost it.

All these critical points are sharpened by bordering a phase that we will call agonizing transition. The transition is beginning to dilute, because the political and economic model that was intended to be founded would have already progressed in its maturation sufficiently. The transition was simply the “snake egg” that enabled the process of “maturation”  (Oporto Valencia, 2015) of a political and economic model that began to peck, the space for its culmination. And this was possible to perceive, because social problems became more acute and critical, and as a result, the social bubbling of this culmination begins to burst on the surface producing an ever-increasing social cracking. In other words, the more consolidation of the model, the greater the social cracking, and as a result, the student protests that were to come begin to take place.

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Mostrador, E. (2019, agosto 30). Viajes injustificados: Contraloría objeta salidas al extranjero de alcaldes y concejales de 8 municipios. El Mostrador. https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2019/08/30/viajes-injustificados-contraloria-objeta-salidas-al-extranjero-de-alcaldes-y-concejales-de-8-municipios/

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Implications of the U.S. election on U.S.-China relations

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Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

The last four years have been one of the most tumultuous periods in modern China-U.S. relations. U.S. President Donald Trump has been the critical catalyst of this upheaval as he has oscillated between presenting China as a valued partner in international affairs, to it being a pariah that needs to be ever more constrained.

Such fluctuations have mounted in intensity as the Trump presidency has progressed.  They have left observers uncertain as to whether or not this is a purposeful strategy of the leader of the world’s most powerful country, or an indication of an untethered, badly conceived, and even short-sighted policy.

Such a wild approach has been no clearer than in their economic relationship.  Here, the U.S. has strived to re-balance its trade relations with China, in particular, to reduce Beijing’s long-standing trade surplus with Washington.  The surplus has been argued by U.S. elites to have led to an unequal relationship, which a rising China exploits to challenge the U.S.’s economic supremacy.  This divide has increasingly taken on a symbolic quality with it becoming representative of a rising China that is soon to surmount the U.S. in global affairs, and which U.S. elites now regard as the most pressing strategic threat to its global position.

In an attempt to pressure China into some kind of re-alignment, the U.S. President initiated a trade war in 2018 and ratcheted up tariffs on Chinese imports to the American market.  By early 2020, these amounted to over $400 billion in tariffs, with China imposing its own retaliatory tariffs of $138 billion on its U.S. imports.  Such steps have taken place amidst ongoing trade talks between the two sides and have been viewed as a negotiating tactic that has ultimately been detrimental to both countries’ economies.  In late 2020, the WTO said that U.S. tariffs violated international trade rules, undercutting their legitimacy, as well as the U.S. claims that China is undermining the U.S.-led “rules-based” international order.

Elsewhere, the two sides have also come into friction concerning China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with the U.S. carrying out regular freedom of navigation operations in the area.  The U.S. now also sends warships and military aircraft through the Taiwan Straits on a monthly basis (something innovated under President Trump), so as to deter China’s historical claims on the island.  In turn, Washington has urged its allies – Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom – to act similarly, which has raised concerns in China of the country being strategically constrained in the region.  Such a constraint could prevent Beijing from pursuing its foreign policy goal of claiming hegemony in East Asia.

Concerning the coronavirus pandemic, narratives emanating from the U.S. along with its Western allies have targeted China as being culpable for the outbreak.  In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump openly claimed that China had knowingly unleased the Covid-19 “plague” on the world, which prompted a terse response from Beijing’s officials that it is a cooperative, not a confrontational country that firmly has “no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot one with any country”.

Such criticism has been increasingly mainstreamed in the last few months in the West with it acting as a stimulus for discussions on how to deal with China’s rise. More critically, an October 2020 Pew survey showed that unfavorable opinions about China were at their highest ever level across the populations of Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and South Korea.  

All of these aspects of U.S.-China relations will present particular challenges regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, in particular concerning growing global concerns over China’s international ambitions.  In this regard, Beijing will certainly need to redouble its diplomatic efforts to present the country as a responsible and benign international actor, through which others can benefit – in primarily – economic terms.  That, by most accounts, China has the coronavirus largely under control means that it has been able to restart its economic activity, which gives Beijing the ability to kickstart and lead an international recovery.  That most Western countries are still overwhelmed by the pandemic reinforces this capability and gives China the further chance to gain greater leverage and influence.

It also appears that it is now the U.S. that faces the greatest challenges to its international legitimacy, the consequences of which may have profound implications for its own global standing.  This relates to the U.S. president’s handling of the pandemic, which has to date led to its world-leading status of 210,000 deaths (which is set to double by the end of the year) and over 7.5 million infections.  That the U.S. president himself has now become infected points to a leader but also a wider political system around him (including senior military leaders, senators, and most of his election campaign staff) that had a nonchalant, underprepared and irresponsible attitude to the major global health challenge of our time.  

President Trump’s infection also marks a major national security threat for the U.S. and the world.  Given his age, obesity, and unhealthy diet, it is feasible that the leader of the world’s most powerful country may become incapacitated from leading the U.S. in the next weeks.  Crucially here, it has been widely reported that Trump will be unwilling to accept any negative outcome in the forthcoming election.  Apart from suggesting that he would not leave office, he may try to rally supporters – potentially even violently – to protect his position.  Crucially here, some of the medication he is taking to help him recover from Covid-19 has the potential to debilitate his mental capacities and overall judgment.  This could impact his ability to recognize when he is incapable of leadership, but also spark irrational tweets and behavior that may destabilize the U.S. and even the world. 

If the U.S. president were to die – either during or in the months after the election – in all likelihood the country would be thrown into a truly unprecedented constitutional crisis.  With widely circulated claims among Republicans and Trump supporters that the election is rigged, if the Democrats were to win, we can expect lengthy legal battles, as well as a heightened potential for major civil unrest across the U.S. Either of these outcomes, would consume the U.S.’s domestic and international capabilities to act beyond its borders.  They would also signal a sense of the U.S. political system (and democracy) as being illegitimate.

Such crises will only be to Beijing’s advantage (among other U.S. competitors), especially given that China is in many ways returning – if not returned to – its pre-coronavirus economic activity.  If U.S.-China relations do signify a contest for supremacy between the world’s two foremost countries, Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact upon the U.S. presidential election could very well indicate the U.S.’s decline on the international stage, and essentially speed up China’s path to global pre-eminence.  

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Battle for the Essence of the Democratic Party

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When President Trump fired defense secretary Mark Esper and cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs just days after the elections, the President set a new integrity litmus test. He was clearly cleaning his circle of those who could stand up to him on the big stuff, such as not sending troops on the Black Lives Matters protesters or not pronouncing the elections rigged. In the meantime, Trump was showing the American public who he still considered loyal by not firing them by keeping the agency chiefs who stayed at least somewhere in the middle. 

In the new Biden era, being fired by Trump will be considered the new badge of honor, an integrity stamp of a sort. Despite talk of firing FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, Trump has not taken the decision, yet, and there surely must be a reason for it. To paraphrase Trump’s infamous McCain quote, I like those who were fired by Trump, not those who were not fired by Trump. This is now the new integrity litmus test. 

In May 2020, I was amidst my campaign for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech as one of the top finalists, when in an interview on Bulgaria on Air I called the Trump Administration’s and the US authorities’ treatment of the media and the protestors during the Black Lives Matter crackdown “despicable”. I was set on going after the Trump Administration and the US authorities if I had the chance to win the UN mandate on freedom of speech. And I had no plans for going easy on anyone. 

There is something profoundly wrong with the US authorities, if instead of going after the crimes, they willingly choose to go after those that have a reaction against the crimes, outraged by crime impunity.

US agencies who “just don’t get it” have to be defunded. And that brings us exactly to the discussion on the future of the heart, soul and essence of the Democratic Party. 

The Democratic party has never been about appealing to the middle in order to be liked or about maintaining some kind of lowest common denominator to make sure that no one got offended. The Party has always been about equality and social justice, housing some of the most bad-ass status-quo shakers — not those that wanted to make sure that rich abusers stayed comfortable, racists were not inconvinienced, or abuse of military power for some illusive common good that served only those in power went unchecked. This is the party that offends and has offended throughout the decades to shake the status quo. This is why it is shameful that veterans in the Democratic Party have tried to shame Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who have run and won their mandates on classical Democratic Party values. 

Civil rights movement defenders in the black marches never said: “let’s have a march but let’s do it only on the pavement not to inconvinience cars”. They took the whole street. 

When I worked for Congressman Bill Delahunt, the Chairman of the House Sub-committee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, representing 10th congressional district of Massachusetts, some 14 years ago, we did not say that torture by the CIA and the CIA extrajudicial rendition flights were okay but not too much, in order to appeal to the center. We would say that torture is unacceptable, that America can do better than that.

Social justice and equality are uncomfortable. Rights are defended and guarded. They are never simply given. As an example from the other side of the aisle, when Republican President Eisenhower sent the troops on Little Rock to enforce black kids’ right to attend school just like any other kid — what Brown vs Board of Education reaffirmed in order to end racial segregation exactly 30 years before the day I was born — Eisenhower did not aim for troops to only show up and waive at the crowds. The soldiers took the black kids by the hand and walked them straight in the school, in the face of hundreds of racist opponents — not trying to please them.

Defending rights takes grit and courage. And some US agencies will never really get it unless their budgets are cut and they are all actually pressed up against the wall — to change unwillingly, forcably and through the trivial but always effective use of financial pressure.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich’s reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests at the time when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this year was that it is the protesters that should be arrested under an outdated rackateering law from the 1940s — not the murdering cops. A memo leaked to the New York Times showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lighly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers.

It is that kind of injustices and human rights infringements that I would have stood up against as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, as witnessed by the outrage and intentions, expressed in my May media appearances. I claimed back then that it is precisely in times of crises that rights are tested and defended. The United States is no exception. The US government is bound by international human rights law standards and no interpretation by second-rate lawyers loyal to the Trump Administration, comparing social justice protesters to racketeers and terrorists, can change that. International voices such as myself and others are here to make sure that US authorities do not forget their international human rights legal obligations.

America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has lead the country into a downward spiral.

US authorities will not learn unless their actual day-to-day, functional survival is put on the line. People do not get it otherwise. This is why I fully support AOC and others in their defunding efforts, which are considered by many as controversial, extreme, out there and even dangerous, but in reality are simply the only effective way to fight institutionalized racism within the FBI, the police and other law enforcement agencies. “There is nothing radical about moral clarity”, to repeat AOC’s simple, yet powerful assertion. The comfortable, lowest common denominator parts of the Democratic Party need to wake up and realize that it is the Black Lives movement that got Joe Biden and the rest of the party across the finish line in November. And this precisely will be at the heart of the battle for the essence of the Democratic Party over the next four years.

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